Q&A – Fast Food Entrepreneur, Drazen Toic, Surf’n’Fries IrelandLast Updated: August 1, 2019
“The same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg. It is not about the circumstances, it is about what you’re made of” – Entrepreneur Drazen Toic spoke to AGENT about the innovative fast food brand Surf’n’Fries, and taking the franchise route to success in Ireland, far from his native Croatia.
For Drazen Toic, business is everything, and opportunities are everywhere. This explains not only his entrepreneurial record, but also why, far from his native Croatia, he is making waves as a fast food entrepreneur who is helping to reinvent chips in Ireland with the ground-breaking Surf’n’Fries brand.
Surf’n’Fries is a company of Croatian origin, established in 2009 in Drazen’s hometown, Rijeka. Its USP is the shape of its fries: curved, crispy on the outside and fluffily tender on the inside, and perfectly shaped for scooping dips.
Drazen and his wife Ana were intrigued by the product, and closely watched the progress of the company. In 2011, the couple moved to Ireland, Drazen working as project manager in a US company in the wireless industry.
Unsurprisingly, Drazen — who set up a number of businesses in his native Croatia, and prides himself on his results-oriented entrepreneurial ethos even when working as an employee — soon identified the possibilities for Surf’n’Fries in a country that has the greatest level of potato consumption pro capita in Europe.
Another decisive factor was that this huge market had no specialist brand with a unique, high-quality product, and Ana and Drazen Toic decided to target this market share by acquiring the brand’s Master Franchise license rights for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Surf’n’Fries initially set up as a pop-up serving the harbour in the South County Dublin seaport of Dun Laoghaire, and they also used the mobile unit to travel to events and showcase their brand throughout Ireland. The product has been sufficiently of a sensation to enable Drazen and Ana to investigate the possibility of the brand’s first brick-and-mortar store in Ireland, with the expectation that this will open its doors at the end of the first quarter of 2019.
14 Questions for Drazen Toic
Poised to take Surf’n’Fries to the next level with their first permanent store in Ireland, Drazen Toic and Ana are focused on the future, using the bricks and mortar location as a springboard from which to grow the business throughout the country. Thankfully, Drazen managed to clear some time to get comfortable in the AGENT Startup Hotseat and answer our questions about his career to date.
1. Briefly tell us how you first got into business, and describe your business goals.
Our company, Morabeza Ltd., is the holder of the Master Franchise licence for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland of the street food brand Surf’n’Fries. We kicked off our operation in March 2016, showcasing the concept with our mobile unit. After the successful introduction of the brand, the next step is to open the first brick and mortar Surf’n’Fries store. We’re currently in advanced conversations on several locations and expect to open the first SnF Store open by the end of Q1 2017, followed by others in the years to come.
2. What were you doing before starting your business?
In the 4 years preceding Morabeza Ltd. I worked as a project manager for an American company European headquarters in Dublin. Operating in the wireless industry, I was in charge of different projects across SE Europe. Surf’n’Fries, however, is not my first business venture. I founded my first company back in Croatia at the age of 23, and for the subsequent 10 years have been an entrepreneur in various different industries.
3. What was your ‘Eureka’ moment?
I guess it all happened during 2015. My spouse and business partner Ana and I had been following the development of Surf’n’Fries, off and on, for 6 years prior to that, mostly out of curiosity. We came to the conclusion that the Irish market was ready for this extraordinary new concept. Through our research, we found that Ireland has the greatest potato consumption pro capita in Europe. On the other hand, when it comes to chips, there was no specialised brand on the market serving a high quality product. We analysed in depth the opportunity and realised that there was an interesting market share to be won.
4. Who are your business icons and inspirations?
There are so many that I couldn’t narrow the choice to a couple. I believe that almost every genuine entrepreneur who has the ability and stamina to develop a business from scratch, is a great source of inspiration, without discriminating by size of business, historical period or any other aspect. There is so much to be learned from people who decide to chase their dreams and find the solutions to take them where want to be. I have read lately the book Delivering Happiness, by Tony Hseih, CEO of Zappos, and I recommend it to every entrepreneur that wants to see a different angle on creating a long-lasting business.
5. What has been your biggest challenge in business, and how did you surmount it?
Among others, the biggest challenge I faced at the beginning of this project was the fact that, as a foreigner who had worked in a multinational company since my arrival in Ireland, I didn’t have any contacts for most of the day-to-day business requirements, and had to build my network from scratch. Being unknown in the community, with no previous business record, presented some important tests. I felt like a tourist who wants to start a business in a place he fell in love with a month ago. However, through intensive research and attending meet-ups and networking events, this challenge was conquered quite successfully!
6. How are you funded?
Personal funds and a small loan from Bank of Ireland. I have to say here that Bank of Ireland has been very helpful from day one, showing great interest in our project. It is a great feeling when you come to talk about your idea and your interlocutor actually takes the time and makes the effort to understand where are you coming from.
7. Work-Life balance: is it possible? How do you achieve it?
I would love to say yes. However, in this early stage of the company we basically go to sleep and wake up with our project. Anyway, since we’re doing what we love, it’s not that difficult. The ultimate goal is to get to the point of having a more predictable working schedule and be able to have time for other interests. Sooner rather than later! 😀
8. What is the first thing you do every day?
I am a morning type of person. I wake up pretty early and get most things done in the first hours of the day. So, if I haven’t fallen off the wagon of my sports activities, I would go to the gym or swimming pool before work. On the other hand, if I am not training, I first have a warm pint of water and squeezed lemon, and then I will ‘eat the frog’, in other words, I tackle the most difficult task of the day first… sometimes while having breakfast at the same time!
9. What screen saver picture is currently on your phone?
None on the phone. I consider it a tool. On my laptop a sailing boat photo.
10. What is the most important app on your mobile phone, and why?
WhatsApp. I am not a techie person. As simple as it might look, I find it very useful for communication and sending updates. And, being part of a franchise, we have our Surf’n’Fries Worldwide group, where we share moments and successes in real time. It is fun and invigorating.
11. What is the the last thing you Googled?
13. What item do you never leave the house without, and why?
My phone and credit cards. I guess the reason why is quite obvious!
14. What advice would you give to your younger self starting out in business?
The first draft of a business plan always looks great. When you have an idea, what you do is look mostly at the the positive aspects, diminishing the low points. And this is completely normal, as without that energy and enthusiasm you wouldn’t be able to get things going in the first place. However, every business venture has different requirements, making the entrepreneur a pioneer, walking through unknown terrain. Be aware that there will be surprises, unknown aspects and modifications along the way. What is important is the ultimate goal. The bigger picture. If you have that vision clear, than the only challenges you need to overcome are actually building material for your company and project… and for yourself!
I am going to draw on the sayings and quotes that I have remembered over the years, to encapsulate all of the above in a single piece of advice: “The same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg. It is not about the circumstances, it is about what you’re made of.”